- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

Alexandria is running out of room to grow and boost its tax base so what's a city to do?
During an economic development summit in June, city officials picked redevelopment as one of their top five priorities. A few months ago, the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, a city-funded but independent agency that promotes business attraction and retention, hired a redevelopment specialist to help get the new policy going.
But it's not easy to do this. Residents and developers have a history of clashing in this tightly knit community.
So AEDP is trying to bring in a wide range of constituents to help frame the work. It is forming a working group with area universities, business people and community members to try to form a vision on how parts of Alexandria can be redeveloped.
AEDP's Paula Riley, executive director, Eric Dobson, deputy director, and Larry Watson, the new business development manager, talked about the upcoming work.
Question: Why was redevelopment chosen as one of the top priorities?
Ms. Riley: This was one of the top five priorities due to the fact that our commercial development is nearly full. We're down to less than a square mile of developable land. They came out for balanced development and to look at existing development.
Q: What's balanced development?
Mr. Dobson: We want to make sure there is viable commercial development that fits in with the character of the community but also provides a return to the property owners. At same time we need to balance it against the residential development. We can't have all of one, and we need to make sure it's the quality and the kind that we we want. It's one of those hard-to-define words.
Q: How many sites can be redeveloped?
Ms. Riley: It's actually being reviewed now. There's an area at Potomac West and another on Braddock Road. City Council just appointed a Washington Street task force. Other areas are being looked at as well.
Q: Tell me about them.
Ms. Riley: The Potomac West Alliance identified eight parcels in the immediate area of the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and Glebe Road. We're working with the organization to develop some ideas that could occur and looking at the surrounding area. In Braddock, there's a group called the Braddock Area Team and we're working with them. It's on North Fayette Street, there's a lot of industrial sites. We're trying to create a vision for that area.
Q: What can Alexandria do to redevelop these areas?
Ms. Riley: We're working with educational institutions. We want to work with schools, city officials and the community. They can help with architectural know-how and planning. First, we're looking for some type of agreement. We're in our initial stages. There's nothing concrete at this point.
Q: Why work with educational institutions?
Ms. Riley: I don't have the funds to hire consultants. The number one priority is to look at educational institutions, K through 12 and into advanced education. We're hitting all the bases.
Mr. Dobson: Virginia Tech has their architectural program. The University of Virginia they're in Northern Virginia has a planning program. They bring some expertise to the table.
Mr. Watson: Another reason is getting a shared vision of this area. It's easy to do economic development when you have a shared vision.
Q: As you may have seen with Potomac Yard, Alexandrians can be a fractious lot. How do you arrive at a shared vision?
Mr. Watson: Through the planning process you can get a facilitator. When you start pulling ideas from the crowd, these start to narrow down. You get particular ideas. It does have to be a public process to a point. You need to get ideas flowing.
Q: Do you have a community consensus that you can work with?
Mr. Watson: We're able to have contact with each of those groups. Now note that the Potomac West Alliance is in stages of dissolving, but the Potomac West Business Association and other groups are still there.
Mr. Dobson: It's important to point out that they are in very different stages. In Potomac West they have had a lot of community participation. In Braddock they're just beginning to take the early steps.
Ms. Riley: They're real new. They're not prepared yet as much as Potomac West. All areas are being reviewed. This Washington task force is something to watch.
Q: When will the study of redevelopment areas be finished?
Ms. Riley: I don't have an answer. I wouldn't call it a study. It's identifying. We're identifying the areas, then we're coordinating with city officials and community members.
Q: What state and federal aid is available to help with redevelopment?
Ms. Riley: We don't know. We have to explore it and we will.
Q: How would you go about redeveloping these sites?
Ms. Riley: That's what this working group is to come up with. We want to hear what the community wants and partner with the city, property owners, civic leaders, the community.
Q: How soon will you have a plan?
Ms. Riley: As we work with the schools probably within three to four months. Potomac West would be the first area to set a vision.
Q: How is that area zoned?
Ms. Riley: Commercial low.
Mr. Dobson: It's a low-density commercial zone … There are some exceptions.
Q: Does Alexandria have any other sites which it has redeveloped? Any way it can learn from history?
Mr. Watson: Old Town was an original redevelopment.
Ms. Riley: There's the Torpedo Factory.
Mr. Dobson: It all depends. There are sites like Washington Square at Old Town formerly the Mastercraft site. There's Portner's Landing. That's a residential project, very high density.
Mr. Watson: Alexandria has been on the forefront of historic preservation and that's certainly an aspect of redevelopment. But the redevelopment we're looking at now, it's a relatively new frontier now.
Ms. Riley: We had so much land a few years ago. Look at the Eisenhower Valley, Potomac Yard.
Mr. Watson: Redevelopment is really a national trend. With urban sprawl it's natural to focus on redevelopment. We have a limited land mass, so it really makes sense to go back and look at our developed commercial areas.
Q: How much of your portfolio is redevelopment work? Or how big a role will redevelopment have in the mix of your work?
Ms. Riley: We are continuing to work on the attraction and retention of businesses. Redevelopment has become one of our priorities. We're just blending that in with what we're doing.
Q: You saw what happened on Potomac Yard. The developer held more than 40 meetings over a year before settling on a plan. Will it be more difficult to reach a vision on how to reuse an existing property as opposed to a new development?
Mr. Watson: It'll be different.
Q: How?
Mr. Watson: It's not one contiguous parcel, the size is smaller.
Mr. Dobson: What we have there is more opinions about what to do. Some think one thing's good and some think it's bad. People have more feelings about a specific site because they know what's been there. That's again why we want to bring educational institutions in, to show how plans are the same. People often are saying the same things in different words. With the schools, we can pull everyone's ideas together and show how it becomes a plan.
Ms. Riley: The schools here are an underutilized resource.
Mr. Watson: I think we can say that it will be faster because what the schools do is governed by an academic calendar. They have to have a product by the end of the academic year.


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